A planned satanist prayer had the city council in Phoenix, Arizona, in an uproar since the Tucson branch of the Satanic Temple wanted to give an invocation at the February 17, 2016, council meeting. The Satanists argued they should have the religious freedom to make the prayer because the minority religion should be offered the same equal consideration as other major religions. In response, the Phoenix city council voted in favor of a public prayer ban rather than letting the Satanic Temple pray, but some council members believe the prayer ban was the Satanists' ultimate goal from the beginning.
Late last month, Michelle Shortt and Stu de Haan of the Satanic Temple argued that Satanists are generally misunderstood as a religion. He believes Satan does not exist and instead thinks the biblical Satan is "symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority."
"We do not have any gods; we're not devil worshipers," explained de Haan. "We do not believe that Satan is an actual being, but that doesn't make it any less of a religion."
An official approval for the Satanic Temple prayer was initially delivered by Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm.
"Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's direction, the city cannot dictate religious viewpoints or the content of a prayer," said the statement. "In addition, government may not exclude a denomination or a religion from praying under these circumstances."
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Several Arizona councilors disagreed with the decision to allow the satanic prayer, calling it a "dumb idea" that was not about "diversity but about stupidity."
"I think it's bad for the city of Phoenix. It's a distraction that makes a mockery of everything and if the mayor and others want them to come speak, they ought to put their name behind it," said Phoenix city councilor Sal DiCiccio. "We weren't comfortable lending either our reputations — or the constituency that voted for us, we didn't want them to think that we were [allowing] a Satanic prayer at a City Council meeting."
Other councilors like Jim Waring said the Satanists planned on turning the council meeting into a "circus," but de Haan accused them of making "blanket assumptions," noting that the council members never "asked us what we were going to say." The Satanist is also a lawyer and claimed the Satanic Temple would sue with a lawsuit if their prayer was blocked.
In response, the Phoenix City Council voted five to four to enact a public prayer ban. Instead of opening council meeting with a public prayer, the city will now observe a "moment of silence," which means the Satanic Temple will no longer be able to give their invocation as originally planned.
According to the Republic, this decision was surprising since the council had been expected to vote in favor of a proposal that would keep the public prayer yet specifically ban the Satanists. Another plan proposed by some of the council was to allow the mayor and council members invite different religious groups of their choice, indirectly uninviting the Satanic Temple in the process.
Phoenix City Attorney Holm said these idea would violate the First Amendment and the satanist lawsuit probably would have won.
"Our view as the city's attorney's office and my view personally as the city attorney is that we would be likely to lose that case," he said.
Mayor Greg Stanton voted in favor of the prayer ban since he and several others were concerned Phoenix could be tied up in a costly satanist lawsuit.
"The First Amendment to the Constitution is not ambiguous on this issue," Stanton said. "Discriminating against faiths would violate the oath that all of us on this dais took. I personally take that very, very seriously."
Satanic Temple leader de Haan seemed pleased with the final decision based upon earlier comments.
"If they don't want to accept, constitutionally what must happen is that all voices must be taken down from the public forum," de Haan said last week. "It's basically all voices must be heard or none at all."
Councilman DiCiccio believes the Satanic Temple hoped to ban prayer in the first place.
"This is what that Satanist group wants," DiCiccio said. "A moment of silence is basically a banning of prayer. It's to agree to the Satanic goal to ban prayer."
Although Satanists are popularly perceived as worshiping Satan, the Satanic Temple website says the group does not believe in the supernatural, does not believe in a deity, and they don't compare themselves to atheist-humanist groups. While the Satanic Temple has notable differences from atheists, they say embracing "the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry," and they believe a "satanist should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things."
What do you think about the Satanic Temple's lawsuit threats and the decision to ban prayer over the satanist group?
[Image via Satanic Temple]